For the first time ever, Bloomberg Tax invited local tax departments from across the United States to provide clarity on basic tax policy and administration. The jurisdictions were chosen after conducting multiple interviews with Bloomberg Tax’s State Tax Advisory Board and other state and local tax practitioners and reviewing feedback requests from our subscribers.
We narrowed down the list of potential jurisdictions to focus on local taxing authorities with significant populations or those that are known for complex tax laws or for less conformity with state laws, as taxpayers tend to be more concerned about receiving guidance from these localities. Of the 65 localities we contacted, 23 completed our questionnaire. Combined, these jurisdictions have a population of more than 16 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and cover 18 states plus the District of Columbia. Localities were asked to base their responses on the laws in their jurisdictions as of July 1, 2021.
The survey provides insight on fundamental local tax issues in four areas: what types of laws and guidance the locality issues and whether these are publicly available, local tax administration, what taxes each jurisdiction imposes, and authorization of local taxing powers.
The Bloomberg Tax Survey of Local Tax Departments is a first step towards providing a solution to taxpayers’ and practitioners’ desire for more readily accessible tax laws, ordinances, and guidance. We asked the localities a series of questions aimed at identifying what types of guidance they issue and where this guidance can be found.
An overwhelming majority of the responding localities said they have statutes/ordinances and regulations addressing their tax laws. All 23 localities said they issue statutes or ordinances and that these laws are publicly available.
Twenty localities also said they have regulations addressing their tax laws; only Boston, Massachusetts; Akron, Ohio; and Arlington, Virginia said they do not. Of the 20 localities that have issued regulations, 19 also said their regulations are publicly available. San Diego, the remaining city that said they have issued regulations, did not respond to this question.
Protest and Audit Procedures
Another area fraught with ambiguity and a lack of clear guidance is audit and protest procedures. The majority of localities (18) said they conduct their own audits; however, a few said audits are conducted by the state on their behalf (5) or by a third-party auditor (4).
Some localities said yes to multiple options provided as responses to questions about local tax audit procedures. This adds additional uncertainty as to who conducts their audits. Dallas, Texas responded that audits are conducted by its own auditors, those from the state, and by third-party auditors. Akron, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; Fort Collins, Colorado; and Tucson, Arizona all said that audits are conducted by two of the three options.
Local Taxes Imposed
The survey asked the localities to indicate whether they impose a wide variety of local taxes, ranging from long established, such as sales and property taxes, to newly emerging digital taxes, and everything in between.
Despite their prevalence at the state level, only about a quarter of the responding localities impose a corporate income tax, individual income tax, or a payroll/wage tax. Instead, hotel and lodging taxes, property taxes, telecommunications taxes, and franchise taxes and fees are most often imposed, with 21, 17, 14, and 14 localities responding yes, respectively.
Fourteen localities also responded that they impose a tax other than those specifically set out on the questionnaire. All 14 included a comment with their response identifying their additional tax types.
One less common local tax that caught experts’ attention is digital taxes, which only five localities said they impose.
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